Deciding what lenses to purchase becomes a struggle for most photographers at one time or another. Personally, I try to find the most value I can in my lens purchases. This value can come from quality and usefulness of the lens versus its cost, or from overall versatility (which is normally what I look for in my purchases). However, for many photographers, price is a deciding factor in buying lenses.
A 50mm f/1.8 lens is often recommended as the second lens purchase a photographer should make once the urge sets in to move past the traditional 18-55mm kit lens. This is also the exact advice I was given by a coworker (which I ultimately followed) when I was ready for a new lens. While the 50mm f/1.8 should not necessarily be the must-have lens for all photographers, it does offer great value by being a useful mid-range focal length and having a very fast aperture at f/1.8 (which lets in a lot of light and it great for playing with a shallow depth of field). It’s also worth mentioning that the lens is very sharp. This versatility makes the 50mm lens useful for types of photography ranging from portraits to astrophotography, especially when you consider the price. Keep in mind that there is also a cheaper Nikon 50mm f/1.8D. While still a good lens, the f/1.8D version of the lens does not autofocus with some Nikon camera bodies, so be sure to check if it is compatible before purchasing the lens thinking you’re getting the same lens for a lesser price.
Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR
I recently took the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR with me to Death Valley as a way to have a longer lens for detail shots of the badlands and sand dunes. My first instinct was to bring something like the Sigma or Tamron 150-600mm lenses. However, after further thought, the Nikon 70-300mm offered a significantly lighter and more compact lens that I could bring out on hikes than the 150-600mm options. While it is not as sharp as the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 (and has a slower and non-constant aperture), the 70-300mm provides a great option for someone looking to get a good telephoto lens for less than 1/5th the price of the 70-200mm, especially if you don’t require the low-light capabilities of its more expensive cousin.
Nikon 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
The Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens is a value purchase for a number of reasons. First, the 24-120mm focal range is useful in disciplines ranging from landscapes to street photography to subjects requiring a bit of telephoto capabilities. It accepts standard sized 72mm screw-on filters, and is a good all-around lens that is versatile enough to fit many of your needs. At about $1,100 (at the time of this writing), the lens may not seem like a value purchase. However, since most people get this lens as a kit when buying a new Nikon camera body, this bundle essentially makes the price of the glass more like $500. Because of this, you can pick one up used in very good condition for around $500 which is a much more enticing value.
I know I’ll get roasted for this. Yeah, I get it, it’s the kit lens, but it’s the kit lens for a few good reasons. 18-55mm is a great range to start off with when beginning with photography and deciding which aspects of it interest you. The 18-55mm lens won’t excel in many areas, but it does many things respectably well. Its focal range gets wide enough for landscape shots and narrow enough for portraits, and the f/3.5 aperture on the wide end means I could take a good photo of the Milky Way if I wanted to. Plus, you can’t beat the price.
Don’t get me wrong, I now shoot with a full-frame camera and “professional” quality lenses and no longer have an 18-55mm in my bag, but I still have photos in my portfolio of which I sell prints that were taken with my old 18-55mm. I dare you to tell me with confidence which ones those are. I ultra-turbo-triple-dog-dare you. Yeah, not so tough now, are you???